Peer pressure is real. Whether out of fear of being different or just plain lack of confidence, students love to follow the crowd. It’s safe that way; they get the rewards of being liked without the risks of alienation. But then sometimes conforming to the group strips away an individual’s dignity and self-worth and, in the worst of cases, leads to destructive decisions. Deciding when to follow the group– and when to go at it alone– is an ongoing moral struggle that students must resolve in school and beyond.
Students of every age struggle with moral decisions about how to balance their own individual needs with the needs of others. Either way they decide, there is sacrifice. Focus on the individual and they must sacrifice others. Focus on others and they must sacrifice their own individual needs. Clear answers are hard to come by. What’s important is that students make a commitment to reflect deeply on ethical decisions before they make them and take responsibility for the decisions they make.
All students have strong opinions about friends. They are in the process of making friendships and ending them. Students have different perspectives on how many friends they should have. Some believe that friends should come in large numbers. Others believe the word ‘friend’ should be reserved for the very few. Forming healthy friendships is an important part of human development which requires thoughtful reflection and ethical decision-making.
When students hear the mantra “You can make a difference in the world,” there’s often an eye-roll. Students struggle to see how the actions of a few can have big consequences for the many. The fallout of this attitude is that many won’t decide to participate in that school-wide fundraiser, start that club or vote in the next election. The impulse to remain apathetic is strong but, as Mead reminds us, it just takes a different way of thinking to liberate us to act.
Students learn a great deal about respect inside the classroom walls. Not only do they pay attention to how their teachers and classmates treat them, but they also carry expectations for how they should act in return. Mutual respect in the classroom is a noble goal in theory, but hard to achieve because either the student or the teacher is unable to hold up his/her end of the deal. Without mutual respect, learning is elusive and the classroom is quickly gripped by misbehavior and personal conflict.
Cooperation is not a foreign concept for students. They are told at all stages of life that it is important to cooperate with others. It is also the case that they are expected to be self-reliant and not afraid to accept the hard work that comes with doing things alone.
Sacrifice requires that we do things today that don’t have immediate benefits for ourselves; but help others instead. Students have generous hearts but, for the most part, are focused on their own successes and sometimes resist the moral obligation to sacrifice for others.
Building healthy human relationships requires really good communication skills. To master the skill of communication students must figure out not only what to say but also how long they should talk. Speaking too much raises suspicion in many settings whereas speaking too little leaves the listener confused and needing more. Finding the right balance here holds the key to forging short and long-term relationships based on trust.
Students confront problems everyday. Some are small like how to study for an exam or get a ride to school, and some large like how to support their friends who are in unhealthy relationships. All of these problems involve the choice of whether to intervene or do nothing and let the situation play itself out. Each choice is hard and leads to consequences.
Students must make decisions in life about how to treat themselves and others. There is a tension here in deciding whose needs should assume greater importance. Sometimes the selfish instinct takes over, other people are shut out and there is a laser-like focus on individual needs. Other times the selfless attitude leads the way. Making wise and balanced decisions about when to serve the self and other people is an important component to living a good life.
Kids are in the midst of making so many ethical choices about the types of people they should be hanging out with. There is peer pressure to spend time with friends who may make questionable life choices but whose approval is important for a child’s self-esteem. Friendship advice from parents, coaches and other authority figures often go unheard because they conflict with what kids believe inside. Decisions on which company to keep are never easy but they are integral to the healthy moral development of human beings.
The Coronavirus outbreak of 2020 has driven society into isolation. Schools are closed. Businesses are shut down. Our social lives have stopped functioning. And we’re at home with much more alone time. Isolation can breed some sadness and despair but also offers a chance for us to reflect and evaluate our lives in a positive and meaningful way.